This Q&A was adapted with permission from the book Chalk Talk: E-advice from Jonas Chalk, Legendary College Teacher, edited by Donna M. Qualters and Miriam Rosalyn Diamond
As the Spring quarter progresses, I am finding that attendance in my classes is a problem. Out of a class of 30 students it is not unusual for 6 to 8 to be missing. These students then want to know what they missed, and providing these overviews has become very time consuming for me. They also want to hand in assignments late and they request makeup work. It seems to be getting out of hand, what do you recommend?
Signed: Lonely in the Classroom
Dear Lonely in the Classroom,
I try to be proactive in the classroom to address this behavior early. I try to explain the responsibility that students have for their own learning and tell them that coming to class is the students’ job. It is their responsibility to attend, and should be considered a commitment. Although the students are freshmen, I compare it to a co-op experience: if they were not going to work on any given day, I discuss what they would do, such as, call the boss, email the boss, etc. However, if you really want to require attendance, then consider instituting an attendance policy on the syllabus, which you could stress in the first class and review with them periodically during the quarter. There are a number of policies that encourage attendance or provide consequences for lack of attendance. Some encouraging policies include: attendance as a percentage of the course grade; bonus points or extra credit for good attendance. Some policies that involve consequences include: points deducted for a certain number of missed classes or grade reductions by certain percentages, based on the number of classes missed. I tell my students that of course I allow excused absences, but they need to provide a Doctor’s written note for the missed classes to be counted as excused.
You do not appear to have an attendance policy, so at this juncture, some discussion with the whole class can be helpful. You can remind the students about their responsibilities as I discussed above. Or, if you know all of the students by name, you can acknowledge that they are missed when they are not there, and give positive feedback when they are. This is, of course, easier with small class sizes. In larger classes you can try in-class assignments, one-minute reflections, or other ways to check attendance, and follow up individually when non-attendance is a problem. I also try to keep variety in my classes, to keep them dynamic, to let the students know what is coming up, so that they are motivated to attend the next class. If I am excited to be there and looking forward to it, and genuinely disappointed when they are not there, they follow suit. Of course, we all have had Spring Fever …